Be forewarned: I am about to get up on my soap box and rant.
I had another topic planned for this week (which should have been LAST week's post, postponed by someone blowing her data allowance for the month a whole week early and that same someone being too lazy to haul off to the library), but I changed my mind when I got the Christian Book Distributors catalog in the mail. Because it reminded me of my recent trip to the book store which ended, sadly, in heartbreak and tragedy.
So, here's my story, and I shall try not to burst into inconsolable tears here, because it is not pretty. A few weeks ago, I went to Barnes and Noble to do some browsing. "Browsing" in Savannah-speech is more a "pick up six, and maybe put one back--no, wait, I will get that one, too." Anyway, I went to the Christian section and found two racks of Christian fiction. One of the racks was entirely filled with Amish stories. Entirely. Top to bottom, side to side. The other rack contained everything else (everything else being historical fiction, primarily westerns, a couple of Ted Dekker titles, and a few detective stories and political what-ifs that, honestly, just didn't grab me with their originality...or, rather, lack thereof.) At this point, I noticed something.
That something being the SELECTION.
It was awful.
I walked out without a single book (because I already owned both Dekker titles).
And then, a few days later, I got the CBD catelog and I thought: oooh! Christmas in January! I'll only get one or two or ten. Sadly, no.
Fifteen pages of Amish fiction. Just as many pages of historical fiction. A spattering of mysteries and modern stories. One page devoted to fantasy. ONE, ALREADY-SKIMMED-OVER-IT-AND-HOLY-SMOKES-IS-IT-GONE-ALREADY, PAGE!!
Yes, I am crying now.
I have nothing against Amish literature. I live in Amish country: I love the culture and the people. I have nothing but fond memories of my Plain neighbors from when I was a child. Sanctuary and The Shunning sit on my shelf. But not the 2,000 copy-cat titles that came tumbling after.
What has happened to our creativity and appreciation for new and exciting stories? It's like we've decided "Okay, this is good and appropriate literature" and sure that's all been done (a lot) but let's hammer away at it, beating the proverbial dead horse we used to call good Christian literature. Are we just writing copy-cat stories because it sold then, so it must sell now?
Again, I don't have anything against Amish literature or historical fiction. I have plenty of each on my own shelf...ahem. Shelves. Er. Personal library. Whatever. The point is, that isn't ALL I have. But it seems like that's all that's out there.
And that's sad. Super sad.
What am I supposed to buy for my hubby? There is almost nothing out there for men. My husband is an avid reader. He is extremely intelligent. He devours commentaries and theology books like he devours candy. He likes deep, thought-provoking themes, with good action and a bit of mush-a-mush for that sentimental streak I adore. He gets almost as starry-eyed over allegory as he does over me (almost, but not quite). He loves Tolkein and Lewis, Lawhead and Terry Brooks. I recently introduced him to The Goldstone Wood series and am waiting for his review on them. But you don't find this kind of stuff on the shelves...you have to go digging around on the internet and, even then, without much success.
Somebody commented once on my penchant for writing "dark" stories. My heroes are not good people, not always. Yes, you are going to find an occasional dragon or creeper running around trying to eat people. At the time, I didn't have an answer for them. Now I do. I write dark stories because, at their heart, they mean something. Most of us don't live in a world where we can just walk on over to the Amish neighbor and swap apple pie recipes (although I literally could). Most of us live in a world where we lose our jobs, and our loved ones, and our self respect, and our faith in God. We watch our loved ones suffer everyday. We see them bullied, and abused and neglected. Then we pick up the pieces and ask the hard questions. The why's. And the how comes. And the why me's. And, hopefully, the why did I ever doubt You's. I write dark stories because I believe God's love shines brighter in the hard times. I write dark stories because my husband enjoys reading them, and I can't find much of anything else to give him that isn't riddled with sex and excessive gore. He could care less about the apple pie unless he is the one actually eating it.
Honestly, I think we writers need to broaden our horizons if we're ever to compete with secular literature. Because when I can't find books in the Christian section...I haul my starving little self over to the teen best sellers and pick up The Hunger Games or Divergent. I would love to find some of these kinds of stories by Christian authors. Some good dystopian and fantasy stories that end with a positive theme and not depression, drugs and death. Are there any of these on the Christian bestsellers? Besides Karen Hancock's The Arena, which is pure and simple genius. I've read it a dozen times and will read it a dozen times more.What do we have to offer our kids that can actually compete with The Hunger Games?
The sad fact, folks, is not much.
One of the reasons I love fantasy and science fiction is because it gives me an opportunity to do something that's never been done before, or at the very least, not done very much. Not The-Shunning-done-ten-times-over. (I'm sorry, I just can't get past those FIFTEEN pages of Plain stories).
It's time to step up our game. We live in 2015 not the 1900's. Let's write like it.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
I am excited to announce the cover reveal of Anne Elisabeth Stengl's latest book, Draven's Light. Her stories are always complex and thought-provoking. She does not shy away from the darkness in human nature, but rather always the light to shine more brightly because of the darkness. Draven's Light promises this and more. Pre-order Draven’s Light today!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
In the Darkness of the Pit
The Light Shines Brightest
Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.
The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.
But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?
Coming May 25, 2015
By Anne Elisabeth Stengl
(coming May 25, 2015)
He heard the drums in his dreams, distant but drawing ever nearer. He had heard them before and wondered if the time of his manhood had come. But with the approach of dawn, the drums always faded away and he woke to the world still a child. Still a boy.
But this night, the distant drums were louder, stronger. Somehow he knew they were not concocted of his sleeping fancy. No, even as he slept he knew these were real drums, and he recognized the beat: The beat of death. The beat of blood.
The beat of a man’s heart.
He woke with a start, his leg throbbing where it had just been kicked. It was not the sort of awakening he had longed for these last two years and more. He glared from his bed up into the face of his sister, who stood above him, balancing her weight on a stout forked branch tucked under her left shoulder.
“Ita,” the boy growled, “what are you doing here? Go back to the women’s hut!”
His sister made a face at him, but he saw, even by the moonlight streaming through cracks in the thatch above, that her eyes were very round and solemn. Only then did he notice that the drumbeats of his dream were indeed still booming deep in the woods beyond the village fires. He sat up then, his heart thudding its own thunderous pace.
“A prisoner,” Ita said, shifting her branch so that she might turn toward the door. “The drums speak of a prisoner. They’re bringing him even now.” She flashed a smile down at him, though it was so tense with anxiety it could hardly be counted a smile at all. “Gaho, your name!”
The boy was up and out of his bed in a moment, reaching for a tunic and belt. His sister hobbled back along the wall but did not leave, though he wished she would. He wished she would allow him these few moments before the drums arrived in the village. The drums that beat of one man’s death . . . and one man’s birth.
His name was Gaho. But by the coming of dawn, if the drums’ promise was true, he would be born again in blood and bear a new name.
Hands shaking with what he desperately hoped wasn’t fear, he tightened his belt and searched the room for his sickle blade. He saw the bone handle, white in the moonlight, protruding from beneath his bed pile, and swiftly took it up. The bronze gleamed dully, like the carnivorous tooth of an ancient beast.
A shudder ran through his sister’s body. Gaho, sensing her distress, turned to her. She grasped her supporting branch hard, and the smile was gone from her face. “Gaho,” she said, “will you do it?”
“I will,” said Gaho, his voice strong with mounting excitement.
But Ita reached out to him suddenly, catching his weapon hand just above the wrist. “I will lose you,” she said. “My brother . . . I will lose you!”
“You will not. You will lose only Gaho,” said the boy, shaking her off, gently, for she was not strong. Without another word, he ducked through the door of his small hut—one he had built for himself but a year before in anticipation of his coming manhood—and stood in the darkness of Rannul Village, eyes instinctively turning to the few campfires burning. The drums were very near now, and he could see the shadows of waking villagers moving about the fires, building up the flames in preparation for what must surely follow. He felt eyes he could not see turning to his hut, turning to him. He felt the question each pair of eyes asked in silent curiosity: Will it be tonight?
Tonight or no night.
Grasping the hilt of his weapon with both hands, Gaho strode to the dusty village center, which was beaten down into hard, packed earth from years of meetings and matches of strength held in this same spot. Tall pillars of aged wood ringed this circle, and women hastened to these, bearing torches which they fit into hollowed-out slots in each pillar. Soon the village center was bright as noonday, but with harsh red light appropriate for coming events.
Gaho stood in the center of that light, his heart ramming in his throat though his face was a stoic mask. All the waking village was gathered now, men, women, and children, standing just beyond the circle, watching him.
The drums came up from the river, pounding in time to the tramp of warriors’ feet. Then the warriors themselves were illuminated by the ringing torches, their faces anointed in blood, their heads helmed with bone and bronze, their shoulders covered in hides of bear, wolf, and boar. Ten men carried tight skin drums, beating them with their fists. They entered the center first, standing each beneath one of the ringing pillars. Other warriors followed them, filling in the gaps between.
Then the chieftain, mighty Gaher, appeared. He carried his heavy crescent ax in one hand, and Gaho saw that blood stained its edge—indeed, blood spattered the blade from tip to hilt and covered the whole of the chieftain’s fist. Gaher strode into the circle, and the boy saw more blood in his beard. But he also saw the bright, wolfish smile and knew for certain that his sister had been correct. The night of naming had come.
“My son,” said the chief, saluting Gaho with upraised weapon.
“My father,” said Gaho, raising his sickle blade in return.
“Are you ready this night to die and live again?” asked the chief. His voice carried through the shadows, and every one of the tribe heard it, and any and all listening beasts of forests and fields surrounding. “Are you ready this night for the spilling of blood that must flow before life may begin?”
Gaho drew a deep breath, putting all the strength of his spirit into his answer. “I am ready, Father.”
Gaher’s smile grew, the torchlight flashing red upon his sharpened canines. He turned then and motioned to the darkness beyond the torchlight.
The sacrifice was brought forward.
ANNE ELISABETH STENGL makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Tales of Goldstone Wood. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.
To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit: www.AnneElisabethStengl.blogspot.com
Well, are you as excited as me about the release of this intriguing new story?? In honor of the cover reveal, Anne Elisabeth will beoffering an exciting giveaway. She will be offering three advanced reader copies of Draven's Light. Click here to enter the Raffle: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/MGNkNTI0NzYyMGZiNjAwZjNmMTRhNTUxOTQ2MTQyOjQy/?
Be sure to let her know your thoughts on this beautiful and haunting cover for her latest book.